Some days, I am not on the ball. I start to doubt myself, my performance at work, and then my place in this universe. Some days, I am surrounded by beautiful friends who cheer me with their humour and delightful tales of life from the wryest of perspectives. Some days, my friends aren't in the best of moods and it is my turn to balance that aforementioned ball on my nose and perform. I tell my tall tales and frivolously embroider my antics and anecdotes to create a happy tapestry to cheer up a pal in need. Some days, two friends are both in need. Those are the days when world feels like an ancient unoiled machine. Metal grates on metal and sparks fly. Axes get ground and yet no one cuts the air.
Today, I decided to take myself off on my bicycle to whirr my blues away. A friend rang and rang again. Texts started to ping. Then more calls. Eventually I stopped for rest. A text, a second, and then the third. The texts started with an invite and ended with insults. He was angry and, in not picking up, I had become his focus. I sent a text back. I tried to salve, but the oil for those troubled waters caused a flare up. I know he was drunk. He's always drunk. I know he needs a good friend, just as I know the company he craves will never cure his brand of lonely. However, I am not able to cater for that. Not today.
Today, I was not on the ball.
He says he is my friend and I want to believe his sweet words. However, his words are not always so measured or kind. His actions too, can be somewhat chaotic, and I am beginning to think this friendship comes at a high price.
He is Prince Charming. He is interesting and interested in everything around him. He comments astutely on the issues of the day, and I find myself in the company of a man who makes me think and ponder. I see new perspectives through his eyes but am never left feeling my own perspectives lack value. Hours pass and are barely noticed as we rally back and forth. Wit and charm married together in one man who seeks out my company. So what's the problem!
He is a drunk. Sometimes, by ten, the conversation is already a little muddled and a few times recently I've found myself in heavy waters. His patience wears thin and I feel blamed for his loss of concentration. With reduced focus comes a loss of veneer and, when the charm disappears, what lies beneath is not too savoury. A short temper is the most noticeable. Never directed at me, yet, but skulking in the background like a surly dog, he snarls at the people he loves. He becomes more negative about life and will cut people with a tongue that seems to sharpen in alcohol. When he is like this, I keep a metaphorical eye on exits and I am on tenterhooks.
So I have a rarely seen friend and an often times worrying companion. It's time to let this friendship slide into the cool waters of acquaintance. A kindly nod and a friendly hello with a distance kept. The next time I am texted beseechingly, I will remember that it is Lady Alcohol and not Prince Charming who is seeking my company. I will miss my friend. I do already, for I haven't seen him sober for a while.
He asked me if I was lonely in Cambodia and if I missed home. An unexpected touch of concern from a man I met in passing, but ultimately it was an ill thought question. He thinks that I should come home, but he doesn't realise that I am at home wherever I am. That wasn't his only mistake though.
I am not lonely in Cambodia. I am rarely lonely anywhere. My loneliness is something others see but it isn't actually there. I have always led quite a self sufficient existence. My life is hermetically sealed and my emotions are lived out in the landscapes and scenarios of my mind. No one really knows me and no one gets invited in. I am not lonely but I am often alone.
I love people. Well, I like a spot of company is probably more accurate. I enjoy telling silly stories and presenting my public face to the world. I get up and out and go about the town and say my hellos. However, more often when I have free time, I choose to relax in other ways. I have my own place and I just go there and lock the door. Being self obsessed, I enjoy my own company. When I am alone with my thoughts, time passes easily. My mind is the most beautiful place I know and I could dream my whole life away in there.
My problem is that other people cause me stress. It's not deliberate. The people I meet are kind and lovely as well as intelligent and witty. It's me and that beautiful mind of mine. I never feel I might have said something wrong, crossed a line, or not been considerate enough when I am on my own. Because I can't read other people too well, I am constantly on the wrong foot. Or I think I might be. So, I hop awkwardly through the briefest of encounters and then run away to my quiet, empty home.
Here is as good as anywhere. I know a few people and my language problems keep most relationships stripped back and simple. I don't know when I'll go back to England, but if I do, I'll be looking for my own place where I can just go and lock the door. If any asks, no one's home.
Everybody should have people that they share their life with. Someone who is there for the journey that we ponderously take through life. Some are lucky enough to find a partner and best friend rolled into one. Others have a close circle of friends or a band of brothers or sisters. I, well I have you.
Dear reader, you get my sleeve and I wear my heart on it. I pour out line after line and, stoically, you are there. Ours is a special bond. One that does not suffocate or stifle me. You never intrude or interrupt. You do not judge or censure me. Some would say our relationship lacks intimacy but I feel like you know me and I could tell you anything.
One sided as it may seem, you have entered into this willingly. I did not coerce you, though I'll admit I try to tempt you in. I embellish the bare bones of my life more than a little whilst tidying my sprawling details into tiny bite size pieces for your delectation.
I had a best friend once but I lost him. He got misplaced at a juncture and I travelled on alone. If I am honest, looking back at the Asperger Path, it is littered with misplaced people that haven't kept up with me. Unfulfilled and unfulfilling relationships that grew messily complex. Each was easier to grieve than to bring back from the dead
So here I am, writing to you. The iPhone writer who carves his intimate but disposable thoughts into the soft, shifting sands of the Internet. A man like so many others, overboard in the teeming sea of electric solitude.
It never rains but it pours. Sometimes things are just badly timed. No matter how good your intentions are you end up down that well paved road and it can be slippery when wet. The last few weeks I’ve been in need of an umbrella.
It’s not that I am work shy, but, much as I love teaching, I am a firm believer that less is more so I choose to work part time. I cut my cloth accordingly. My life isn’t particularly ritzy but here in Cambodia my qualifications allow me to access a good hourly wage. I like to keep my teaching hours at around fifteen for the perfect life, work, remuneration balance. Recently my hours took a precariously low dip but I had been given the opportunity to teach amazingly interesting classes at the weekend. Thankfully, serendipity popped by with a more bread and butter offer of daily work.
The weekend classes were just one module of a Masters in teaching and my lovely students have all passed; most with flying colours. But the daily classes have already been running for three weeks. Today is my first day off after eighteen consecutive days of teaching. A few of weeks of teaching almost thirty contact hours has meant time has flown. I have had to exercise planning skills to ensure I was delivering well sequenced, well prepared lessons to four very different groups. Work life balance has been on hold and, this month, payday promises to be filthy in its richness.
Today, however, I am not a teacher. I have left my course books at work and Monday’s lessons are planned. It is time to recalibrate. Today I am grabbing a good friend, some swimming shorts and a place by the pool. I will sit under one umbrella whilst stirring a slightly ridiculous, fruity cocktail with another. It never rains but it pours.
It’s been a year. How am I?
A year ago I lost my job in circumstances that were less than savoury. I discovered that discrimination is alive and kicking in twenty first century Britain. When it rears its ugly head its price is cold hard cash. Hush money was paid and I went. My head may have appeared to be held high but inside my tail was firmly between my legs.
So my first steps along the Asperger Path were walking away. Away from people who saw my weaknesses and seemed blind to what I could offer. Away from people who tried to get inside my head and happily trampled my self esteem and my dignity under dirty, corporate feet.
I went far and now my scars are no longer livid. A year has passed and my life has changed. I have taken my diagnosis, put it in with the rest of my baggage, and I have travelled. This rigid creature of habit who couldn’t cope without routines has slept on sofas, hitchhiked, stayed with strangers, made new friends and travelled half way around the world. I’ve seen the sun rise over mountains, deserts and oceans. With each sunrise came another day of my new life.
Here in Cambodia, I met an extraordinary man. With the gentle honesty that sometimes only a stranger can exercise, he pointed out my strengths and dismissed my protestations. He was passing through, geographically speaking, but he will be around for a long time. He gently told me that my fine mind is balanced by a fine heart. In doing so he reminded me of someone I used to think I was.
So here I am. That goodhearted man, blue eyed and smiling, is older but he is not lost. I’m not walking away anymore. The Asperger Path is mine. I don’t deny it; I own it. I will go where it takes me and I am confident it will take me where I want to go.
It’s been a year. How am I? I am fine.
The time to write
A poem down for you
So for now
It’s just a note
And that will have to do
You have to love Diana Ross. Well, I guess you don’t have to but I do. She was with me at breakfast this morning and asked if I knew where I was going to. Hell no as Oprah Winfrey replied in the film version of The Color Purple. Luckily, not being black or southern, I did not receive a beating for my strident response. Diana just went on, almost as if she hadn’t heard, to ask if I liked the things that life is showing me. This time my answer was a life affirmating smile that wasn’t covered by hand but shared with the morning muesli.
I am starting to believe that life is a gift. Like all the other gifts and talents I possess, it benefits from a bit of practice and honing. I am just past fifty and feeling fabulous. I have created a life that, right now, plays a rather gentle hand. My skill sets and strengths have been carefully balanced with my, let’s call them, eccentricities, and life is being lived in a contented manner. I have a home far from home and I have found friends far from friends. There have been a few hairy moments over the years but my diploma from the school of hard knocks looks dusty in the bright sunshine of easy street.
Diana might be worried about my lack of destination but this life is easing on down the road. On my slow journey away from Oz I seem to have found myself a rather comfortable window seat. My name is not Dorothy and I will not surrender. I am somewhere, over my rainbow, living my spectrum disordered life one day at time.
Do I like the things that life is showing me? Hell, yes Diana! Hell yes.
I lead a very small life. I get up and go about my business and to most I am an unknown. I am a nameless stranger on the streets of a city whose language I cannot read or speak.
Yet, everyday I feel welcomed. When shopping, the generosity of a smile, when I struggle to communicate, calms me down. The old ladies of the market laugh at me but I can see the kindly twinkle in their eyes as I stumble through buying my vegetables. The toddlers, standing on the footplate of their parents’ scooter even shout hello as they go past. So I may be unknown but I’m not unnoticed. As a foreigner, a barang, I stand out. I am tall, even by British standards, so here in Cambodia I feel as if I’ve come down a bean stalk. I sail around the town on a big old fashioned bike, having eschewed the ubiquitous motorbike, gathering smiles.
In my small life, these seemingly meaningless interactions are anything but. Each one contributes to a sense of happiness. Here in Cambodia people are shy but they are not wary. Having come from Europe where the single adult male is shunned as potential stranger danger it is lovely to receive happy waves and carefree waves and hear parents encouraging their children to say hello.
I will never change the world and I have no aspiration to do so. Nor will many of the people I see every day. However, a cheery hello or an open smile can change someone’s day. I know this because the good people of Battambang share their small city and their kind, friendly nature with me, making my small life a happier one.
A streetcar named desire stopped in my town the other day. A stranger disembarked and before he got back on he got and the bell clanged to signal his departure he declared that I looked comfortable in my own skin. Such a lovely compliment, thrown as he sped away to elsewhere.
We had spent such a short time together but looking back, the conversation was deep and the humour dry and sparkling like a good champagne. Certainly I had felt easy in the to and fro of the friendly conversational joust in which neither of us were tilted from our seats. We were well matched.
I’ve never depended on the kindness of strangers but when you’re travelling alone a stranger’s takes can light up dark unknown skies. I thrive on meeting new people. The relationships are superficial even if the conversations are deep and the torturously subtle complexities and conventions of long term relationships are hazards that need not be traversed.
As I travel alone on the Asperger Path, I realise that my life has acquired an openness and sense of freedom that it had often lacked. I have neither the time nor the ability to set up bizarre rules and restrictions. My life, so often run around a set of self constructed, constrictive mantras, is now open to the four winds and whoever they blow my way.
I have made some unusual choices and I’m sure the odd eyebrow is raised in my honour. However I took the road less travelled so I grateful when the streetcar drops off a stranger and he walks a block or two with me. I don’t depend on their kindness but it is most welcome.